When to Apply for Medicare

There are several times to enroll in Medicare, and each of those times has certain rules around applying and when coverage will begin. Understanding when to enroll and the best time to do so is an integral part of getting Medicare.

Initial Enrollment Period

The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is the first time to sign up for Medicare and join Parts A, B, C and D during this time:

  • 3 months before 65th birthday,

  • Birthday month, and

  • 3 months after birthday.

Coverage will start no sooner than 65th birthday month. Learn about Medicare Part B coverage start dates.

Example: If birthday is in July, Initial Enrollment Period begins April 1 and ends October 31.

If the enrollment period is missed, there is another chance to enroll but waiting could result in late penalties and a period without health coverage. Learn about penalties for late enrollment.

Special Enrollment Period

There are Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) that apply when eligible for delayed enrollment in Medicare Parts A, B, C & D. These SEPs are only available for certain circumstances. Learn more about Medicare Special Enrollment Periods.

General Enrollment Period

If the Initial Enrollment Period or Special Enrollment Period is missed, there is another chance to enroll.

Sign up for Medicare Parts A & B can also happen between January 1 and March 31 each year. Medicare coverage would begin on July 1 of the same year.

It is important to note that if Part A is needed during this time, enrollment in Part B is required at this time as well.

Open Enrollment Period

The Open Enrollment Period – sometimes called the Annual Election Period or Annual Coordinated Enrollment Period – runs each year from October 15 to December 7. During this time,

  • Anyone with Medicare Parts A & B can switch to a Part C plan.

  • Anyone with Medicare Part C can switch back to Parts A & B.

  • Anyone who has or is signing up for Medicare Parts A or B can join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan.

  • Anyone with Medicare Part C can switch to a new Part C plan.

Coverage will start on January 1 of the following year.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

The Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period provides additional opportunities to change Medicare Advantage plans outside the Annual Election Period (October 15 – December 7). Learn more about the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period.

Medigap Open Enrollment Period

It’s recommended to buy a Medigap policy during the 6-month Medigap Open Enrollment Period, because during this time, any Medigap policy sold in state can be purchased, even with health problems. This period automatically starts the 65th birthday month and also enrolled in Medicare Part B. Learn more about the Medigap Open Enrollment Period.

Related Content

A Complete Guide to Medicare Open Enrollment
The Medicare Open Enrollment Period is an annual period of time (October 15 through December 7) when current Medicare users can choose to re-evaluate coverage.
Understanding the Medicare Late Enrollment Penalty
Learn how to avoid these fees and make the Medicare experience as seamless and pain-free as possible. The penalty for Part B and Part D are lifelong.
Still Working After 65? A Medicare Guide
Not everyone needs to enroll in Medicare when they first become eligible. If still employed once Medicare-eligible it may be more beneficial to delay enrollment